The Sunday Sermon: March 7, 2021 – Third Sunday in Lent
Scripture: Matthew 26:14-16
Lent in the Ordinary: Coins
We’re jumping right in this morning. I rarely do this, read our morning’s scripture so soon in the sermon message. I pay attention more closely on the few occasions when that happens. Maybe you should, too.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Matthew 26:14-16. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (That’s one of those readings where we wonder what we’re thanking God for. Perhaps a second chance we’ve been given to pay closer attention.)
You felt it, all of you, I know you did. There are few other passages in our Bible that give Christians a more dark foreboding than this one. “It is finished,” I suppose. And “I do not know the man,” surely. But somehow, “and from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him” tops them all. It hasn’t happened yet, unlike those other examples, it’s not “over” or he’s not been denied, yet. The betrayal hasn’t happened in these words, though we know it will. Right now there’s just … the waiting.
But we’re a little under four weeks, most of this month, away from Maundy Thursday when this treachery actually occurs. Why in the world are we reading and hearing it already? I’m afraid it’s because this week we will be finding Lent and discovering God in another ordinary object, or set of ordinary objects: coins. Let’s say … thirty pieces of silver.
Pray with me …
Do we have the eyes to see God’s near presence? Do we have the ears to hear the word of the Lord spoken in and through the ordinary? Will we open ourselves to the holy not only in heaven but also on earth and right in front of us? Can everyday objects remind us to stay awake and pay attention?
Judas agreeing to betray Jesus is recorded in three of our four gospels, but only Matthew writes what he thought Judas was paid. Mark and Luke only note that Judas was given money. I want us hear the thirty pieces of silver ringing in our ears this morning and feel the weight of them as they hit the floor at our feet. (That’s a bit dramatic. Matthew doesn’t record that, I know.) The point is, it’s not just “money” we’re to pay attention to this week. It’s coins.
You see, this year for this season we are using the devotional book “Lent in Plain Sight” to better prepare. We’re discovering God, not by looking up or beyond, but by looking at what’s right in front of us, what’s all around us – ordinary people, everyday objects, things we bump up against moment by moment. And this week, it’s coins.
Thirty pieces of silver in Judas’ case. No way to know the actual value, the denominations of the coins isn’t shared. Matthew is alluding to the Old Testament prophet Zechariah and an obscure reference to the wages of a shepherd, but in both places – Zechariah and here in Matthew – the sum is considered paltry. And that’s purposeful. Judas’ motives for betraying Jesus are also ultimately unknowable, but one of them is not financial gain, we are to understand.
But, before we condemn Judas outright, we have to ask ourselves, “Why do we so readily hand over what is priceless in our lives for a meager sum of money – or a major sum, for that matter?” That’s what any and every coin we see, feel or hear this week should prompt for us – a reflection on, a response to, that question. “Why do we so readily hand over what is priceless in our lives?”
Our relationship to money, represented by every coin we come across this week, is complicated, to put it mildly. Everything around, and almost everyone around us, tell us that nothing “trumps the value of wealth, the accumulation of coin, the security of money.” And that insistent messaging is further complicated by our experience of its truth! Money is nice to have. Fortunately, I suppose, we’re not being asked to consider why or how “money talks” in your life. We’re being asked to reflect on why we so readily trade what is priceless in our lives for it.
- Our time with family instead of time at work
- A simple night at home with friends instead of an expensive dinner at the newest restaurant
- Travel today instead of investment for tomorrow
- Long term care for parents comfort instead of concerns over inheritance for ours
- Donations to charities for vulnerable populations instead of dues for social clubs or organizations.
It’s not a question of if we do these things and so much more, but when and why we do them.
As noted earlier, Matthew makes no attempt to supply a reason for Judas’ “trade.” The money was paltry; his anger over Jesus’ refusal to assume the role of conquering hero is hard to justify because Jesus non-violence and call to love enemies have been known from the beginning; and, Jesus himself, ten chapters earlier, foretold his death, so Judas knew he wouldn’t force God’s hand by turning on Jesus. Matthew is content to believe that there is “trading” going on that it is not in anyone’s interest, self or society, and beyond rationale explanations.
That’s true for us, as well.
Each one of you, each one of us, must decide what is “priceless” in our lives. And then each one of us must figure out why we would ever trade that for anything else, at all.
Two weeks ago we began Lent through a week discovering GOD in ordinary bread – literal bread and “bread” understood as that which is intended to sustain us in the lives we’ve created for ourselves and for others. Last week we discovered God in the extraordinary Love that is, or should be, part of every encounter we have with our ordinary cross. This week coins are our “Lent in plain sight.” The pennies in your pocket, the dimes on the sidewalk, the quarters in your couch cushions this week, are meant to remind us of how and why we, too, betray what is priceless in our lives for anything less than wholeness and promise that is full life and everlasting Love.
Let us pray …
Loving God, we are not Judas … at least that is what we tell ourselves. Help us this week to discern even more deeply where we exchange the eternal for the temporal and fail to invest in what is truly priceless in our lives and in our world. Reveal to us that which we do, so that we may change it and do that which we must to find our strength and solid Ground in Christ alone . Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / March 7, 2021